Motorcycles are expected to be built with utmost care and precision to ensure their high quality. But accidents are unexpected and no matter how premium a motorcycle is, external factors will always put any rider at risk.
However, rider error or another driver’s negligence is not always the cause of motorcycle accidents. Many road mishaps involving motorcycles are also caused by defects in a motorcycle’s design or production.
While it may not be as common as the other causes of motorcycle accidents, motorcycle defects also lead to major injuries and deaths each year, prompting manufacturers to issue safety recalls to prevent putting more lives at risk.
What is a safety recall?
A safety recall is issued in response to a discovered defect in a vehicle or its parts. This can be done either by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the vehicle’s manufacturer.
However, a motorcycle accident caused by a motorcycle defect does not automatically mean that no one is responsible. It is important to understand how safety recalls are processed, who can be held accountable in a motorcycle accident caused by such defects, and how those involved are liable.
In simple words, motorcycle safety recalls are designed to rectify potentially dangerous situations.
How does a motorcycle safety recall work?
Ideally, motorcycle defects should be discovered before the motorcycles are sold. But sometimes, those defects only come to light once consumers complain, or worse, serious accidents involving the motorcycles in question have already occurred and endangered people.
Defective motorcycles account for only 3% of all motorcycle accidents, but there should not have been any cases had the defects been detected early on and the faulty vehicles did not get sold in the first place.
People who have purchased motorcycles that have been recalled due to defects should receive a letter with instructions to take the vehicle to the local dealer for repair. Since the found defects are not the consumers’ fault, the manufacturer should shoulder all the expenses for repairs at no cost to their customers.
What should be included in a motorcycle safety recall?
Regardless of whether the safety recall was initiated by the motorcycle’s manufacturer or the NHTSA, the manufacturer should issue a public report disclosing the following:
- The defect/s found or noncompliance with safety standards
- The involved vehicle population
- The events that led to the issuance of the recall
- A description of the remedy
- A schedule for the recall
It is the manufacturers’ responsibility to notify the owners of their recalled motorcycles. They can do this by coordinating with each state’s department of motor vehicles or by directing local dealerships and distribution chains to halt the selling of said recalled motorcycles.
However, there are instances where owners of recalled motorcycles are not notified for whatever reason. In such cases where an owner does not receive any notice of a recall, the manufacturer is still obligated to repair the motorcycle at no cost to the customer.
Who is liable for motorcycle accidents caused by vehicle defects?
If a rider gets into an accident as a result of a defective motorcycle, the parties that may be held liable for the rider’s injuries are the motorcycle’s manufacturer, the tire’s manufacturer, the manufacturer of the parts used in the defective motorcycle, or the company that designed the motorcycle.
In most cases though, it is the manufacturer that is usually held accountable. A motorcycle accident victim may bring a strict liability action against the manufacturer if the vehicle or some parts of it are proven to have design defects, manufacturing defects, or if the manufacturer failed to provide adequate warnings about its safe use.
To establish the manufacturer’s liability for injuries caused by a defective motorcycle, the victim must provide proof that the motorcycle was in a defective condition at the time of the accident, the defects are the manufacturer’s fault, and the motorcycle defects were the cause of the victim’s injuries.
In some states, the victim is also required to prove that the defective motorcycle was being used in its intended or reasonably foreseeable manner when the accident happened.
However, the manufacturer will not be held liable if the motorcycle was not defective and not proven dangerous at the time of the accident, the motorcycle’s condition did not cause the victim’s injuries, or the motorcycle’s defective condition is not the manufacturer’s fault.
How does the Product Liability Law protect a motorcycle rider?
Defective products that cause injuries are covered under the product liability law. This law determines the person or entity responsible for defective products and sets specific rules on how to handle such cases.
Product liability holds a manufacturer liable for putting a defective product out to the market, making it accessible to consumers. However, if a rider is injured due to motorcycle defects, the manufacturer will not always be the one at fault.
There could be many responsible parties for the accident. Liability may be placed to anyone involved in the production and distribution of the defective motorcycle such as the manufacturer of the motorcycle’s parts, the party that assembled the motorcycle, the wholesaler, or the retail store that sold the motorcycle to the consumer.
The United States Code for Motor Vehicle Safety
Regardless of who is at fault, the safety of all motorcycles is always ensured under Title 49, Chapter 301, Section 30101 (a) (8) of the United States Code for Motor Vehicles. This law states that safety is “the performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risks of accidents occurring because of design, construction or performance of a motor vehicle, and against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes non-operational safety of a motor vehicle.”
In other words, it is the responsibility of the manufacturers of all vehicles—motorcycles included—to guarantee the safety of their products through proper design and manufacturing.
If a rider’s life is put in danger while riding a defective motorcycle and if the injuries or death were a result—either partially or fully—of a manufacturing or design flaw, then the manufacturer could be held responsible for the accident.
Common motorcycle defects
If a rider is injured in an accident caused by a defective part or design of the motorcycle, it is best to contact a personal injury lawyer immediately. Even if a safety recall was issued, the manufacturer is not automatically absolved of the safety responsibility and liability for the injuries sustained and property damages incurred.
In many cases, the components that fail in motorcycle accidents are usually the brakes, chain, shock absorbers, toe clips, and rear wheels. While motorcycle accidents due to vehicle defects make up only 3% of all motorcycle accidents in the US, one life put in danger is one too many.
If you get involved in such an accident, it is important to identify which motorcycle parts are prone to defects.
Unexpected engine failure can turn an innocent ride into a dangerous experience. Riders do not expect their engine to stop running without warning, but a defective engine can cause your motorcycle to abruptly stop in situations that require you to keep moving.
Brake failure can be dangerous on any vehicle, but motorcycle riders who already lack the protection of a vehicle frame are put at even more risk if the brakes fail. The inability to stop increases the risk of an accident and may even cause a fatal crash especially if the rider is cruising at high speeds.
Faulty tires can make a motorcycle unstable and cause the rider to swerve into other lanes or skid while slowing down. If a motorcycle accident is found to be a result of defective tires, the tire manufacturer might be liable for the injuries the rider suffered.
A fuel tank with a manufacturing flaw can cause dangerous gas leaks which may lead to a motorcycle fire. Unfortunately, not many riders discover this flaw soon enough until it is too late to prevent a devastating accident.
Handlebars are important for steering and keeping your motorcycle on the right track. When handlebars are defective and fail to help you steer, they can cause your bike to wobble and prevent you from getting away from a dangerous situation.
A structural failure like a small fracture in the frame of a motorcycle can lead to serious accidents. If a motorcycle frame cannot withstand normal riding conditions, it becomes prone to cracks that expose the bike to the elements. This can lead to the accumulation of rust which could affect other motorcycle parts over time.
Aside from specific defects found in the motorcycle or its components, it is also possible to take legal action when the motorcycle is proven to have a hazardous design. A motorcycle that is not outlined and produced properly can cause serious problems for the rider, so manufacturers must be aware of the potential dangers created by faulty motorcycle design.